Max and Paddy - the springer spaniels with a cult following in the Lake District
- Credit: Archant
Kerry Irving had his life transformed by a springer spaniel with 59,000 Facebook followers. Emily Rothery reports
LIFE changed drastically for Kerry Irving eleven years ago when his car was hit by a truck. ‘I was used to cycling 500 to 600 miles a month and loved fell walking – but basically, my life stopped,’ he says.
‘I was on 27 tablets a day and struggled to walk even a short distance. It was a deep downward spiral for me until I met Max in 2008 and my rehabilitation gradually began.’
Max, a loveable springer spaniel, has helped Kerry to regain his freedom and the pair are now inseparable. ‘Max belonged to a neighbour and I started by taking him out for very short walks every day. Within a week we became the best of pals. When I retrained as a locksmith he started to come to work with me every day.
‘Initially, he gave me a reason to go out and helped me through very dark times. It’s taken a long time to open up and talk about depression and it took me six years to climb a hill again. Max got me there.’
But then, Max is no ordinary dog as his 59,000 Facebook followers will tell you. Kerry, who is also a keen photographer, began to post photos of Max’s adventures in the Lake District in 2016. ‘The popularity of his page just grew and grew and we now have followers and friends worldwide.’
Inspired by Max and the wonderful locations, many people from around the globe have subsequently visited Kerry’s home town of Keswick just to meet them. He has even been named the Canine Ambassador for Keswick by Keswick Tourism Association. ‘Everyone wants to meet Max as he’s such a laid back sociable boy. He just loves people,’ says Kerry.
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Max’s therapeutic qualities are helping others too. ‘Many people who are going through bad times send messages to tell me how the photographs brighten up their day or have helped them through illnesses.’ The comments that Kerry has received have inspired him to link up with the charity Freedom Wizard that enables people to access rugged places via all terrain battery-powered wheelchairs.
‘Allie Pennington, who runs the charity, contacted me as they were raffling books to raise funds and asked if they could have Max’s pawtograph. It’s signed by Lake District legends like Chris Bonnington, Josh Naylor and Alan Hinkes with Max’s paw print smack in the middle of the inside cover.’
Through Max’s Facebook page one avid follower contacted the charity to arrange an outing up Keswick’s Latrigg fell. ‘This was a trip that she had not been able to make for some 30 years due to a horse riding accident which left her unable to walk. She was over the moon when Max and I appeared at the summit to greet her. It was a complete surprise for her and things got a bit emotional,’ says Kerry, as Max curls up contentedly at his feet.
It was suggested that Max apply to be a registered therapy dog and was put through the induction course for Therapy Dogs Nationwide who then later invited Max to Crufts as a special VIP guest in 2016. Max works in his role as therapy dog solely with Freedom Wizard, meeting people on the fells and helping them to overcome life’s challenges. Max was also voted Countryfile Dog of the Year in 2016.
Despite the accolades, for Kerry and Max life is all about helping people but there is a lot of fun to be had along the way. Paddy, a lively springer pup, recently joined their family and, under Max’s guidance, he is already exploring local tracks and revels in rivers, tarns and lakes. Mud is a favourite too.
There is a definite synergy between the two dogs and their master. ‘We’re up at 5am every morning – early starts are the legacy of a back injury – and out in all weathers. No matter what the time of day if I pick my keys up Max and Paddy are at the door waiting. I set challenges so that we increase the distance of our walks. Their wagometers – also known as tails – go into overdrive when water is involved. Max is like a gremlin near water and is famous for jumping off jetties.’
The dogs are also famous for their flapometers – also known as ears – which are used to judge wind strength. When Storm Doris was due to hit Britain, Kerry captured Max out in the wind on Latrigg summit, posting the video with the comment ‘Flapometers at seismic today.’ Max made the national press and shot to social media stardom as the post was shared and eventually received a combined 10 million views.
‘People now regularly ask me for the weather forecast so I might say, 1.2 but it might be 1.5 by lunch time,’ laughs Kerry who is married to Angela. ‘It takes us ages to walk through town. Max has become quite a celebrity, featuring in television programmes such as BBC’s A Word. We’ve also been asked to star in the upcoming TV programme The Life of a Mountain, Helvellyn. The series has so far featured Scafell and Blencathra and we will be filmed later this year in the last in the trilogy which we are really looking forward to. We have also been filmed by a Japanese crew who wanted to capture Max jumping off the jetty at Langholm Estates in Portinscale where we spend a lot of time.’
The celebrated canine pair will be also be delighting the crowds when they switch on the 2017 Keswick Christmas lights.
Max, who officially became Kerry’s dog only two years ago, takes it all in his stride and has accepted a playful puppy into his life with typical good grace. ‘Max is showing him the ropes. Paddy is an extremely confident, bright pup but already he is following our routine and absorbing some of Max’s calm. His arrival has sparked a flood of interest but despite the fame they have a really good dogs’ life.’
With sheer determination and the love of his four- legged friends Kerry, although still in some pain and unable to do all of the things that he used to do, has reached a good place in his life. ‘It keeps me really busy and as so many people want to meet Max and Paddy I’m organising several charity walks where people can bring their dogs along. The first walk in June with 40 very well-behaved dogs raised £1,200 for Eden Animal Rescue and future walks will be posted on social media.’